Russia Talks About Continuing with Black Sea Grain Initiative

The United Nations and Russia began talks Friday about Russia’s continued participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which facilitates the export of Ukrainian grain and other agricultural products from Back Sea ports. Rebecca Greenspan, secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, held discussions with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin. Before the talks, however, Vershinin said some recent Ukraine developments could not be overlooked in the talks. Those events include the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in the Kharkov region and the destruction of Russia’s Togliatti Odessa ammonia pipeline, also in Kharkov. The pipeline is one of the world’s longest for transporting ammonia. Russia said earlier this week a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group were behind the pipeline destruction. The initial 120-day grain agreement has been extended several times, most recently in May. …

Boris Johnson’s Shock Exit Reverberates Through British Ruling Party

Old rifts resurfaced Saturday in Britain’s ruling Conservative Party following former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s abrupt resignation from parliament, while the opposition Labor Party sensed opportunity ahead of a general election next year. Johnson quit his 22-year political career late Friday to protest an investigation by lawmakers into his conduct as prime minister during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdown-breaking parties were held in Downing Street. In his resignation statement, Johnson railed against the inquiry examining whether he misled the House of Commons about the gatherings. He also took aim at current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Conservative lawmakers loyal to Johnson, some of whom received political honors from him just hours before his resignation, praised his record in social media posts. The rest were silent. “Well done Rishi for starting this nonsense!!” lawmaker Andrea Jenkyns wrote in a Conservative Party WhatsApp group, according to a screenshot shared by a Sky News reporter. Jenkyns received the honorary title of Dame from Johnson Friday, a power given to outgoing prime ministers. His premiership was cut short in part by anger in his own party and across Britain over COVID rule-breaking lockdown parties in his Downing Street office and residence. Johnson said the investigating committee had not found “a shred of evidence” against him. “Sunak supporters used resignations to drive Boris and his supporters from office,” veteran Conservative lawmaker John Redwood said Saturday, referring to Sunak’s decision to quit Johnson’s administration last year. “To avoid resignations from parliament the PM has to take the party in a direction more MPs want to go in and use more of its talent,” Redwood added.   Labor smells blood Johnson’s departure from parliament, alongside his ally Nadine Dorries who also resigned Friday, triggered by-elections for two Conservative-held constituencies that Sunak must now defend. The opposition Labor Party, which enjoys a roughly 16-point lead over Sunak’s Conservatives in opinion polls, said it relished the prospect. “We will be fighting to win in those constituencies,” Labor’s deputy leader Angela Rayner told the BBC Saturday. “They’ve created a by-election because both of them (Johnson and Dorries) have thrown their toys out of the pram.” Johnson’s decision to resign may be the end of his 22-year political career, where he rose from parliament to mayor of London and then built a profile that tipped the balance of the 2016 European Union referendum in favor of Brexit. Ed Davey, … Continue reading “Boris Johnson’s Shock Exit Reverberates Through British Ruling Party”

US-Kosovo Diplomatic Spat Casts Shadow on Bilateral Relations

The United States and Kosovo are continuing to engage in an unusual public spat, after the staunch U.S. ally’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, resisted calls to take steps that the West says are necessary to de-escalate ethnic tensions in the country’s north. Tensions flared last week as ethnic Albanian mayors entered municipal buildings with the backing of police, despite having won with only 3.5 percent of the vote in local elections that ethnic Serbs boycotted. U.S. Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar and EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak visited Kosovo and Serbia this week, where they asked the leaders of the two countries to de-escalate, hold quick new elections in northern Kosovo and resume their dialogue. It’s unclear if they will be able to persuade the two sides. Escobar has called Kurti inflexible and uncooperative, and Kurti complained that Washington and Brussels are biased in favor of Serbia. What’s at stake is a deal between Kosovo and Serbia aimed at normalizing relations, but so far no concrete steps have been taken. On Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill was blunt in an interview with VOA’s Serbian Service, saying Washington has a problem with Kurti. “He’s not willing to comply, and I think we have some very fundamental issues with him on whether we can count on him as a partner,” he said. Kurti fired back, complaining in an interview with The Associated Press of bias against his country from the United States and the European Union and tolerance of what he calls Serbia’s authoritarian regime. “Behaving well with an autocrat doesn’t make him behave better. On the contrary,” he told AP. Hill confirmed a view that many who have followed the Western Balkans and U.S. engagement with Kosovo share these days. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a deep division, really … what we have going right now between Pristina and Washington,” he said. US approach debated While analysts agree that the situation is dangerous, they have different opinions on the United States’ open criticism of Kurti. Luke Coffey, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, said the biggest concern for him has been the way the Biden administration has handled the situation, calling Escobar’s approach “almost reckless.” “I understand this desire to put pressure on both sides by the U.S. government, but it seems like right now the pressure is disproportionately on Kosovo. … And … Continue reading “US-Kosovo Diplomatic Spat Casts Shadow on Bilateral Relations”

Biden, Stoltenberg to Meet Amid Jockeying for NATO Chief’s Successor 

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to meet outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House on Monday as jockeying to secure his successor intensifies. While the White House says the official agenda for the meeting is to discuss the alliance’s July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the issue of who will be next at NATO’s helm during this difficult period in its 74-year history will no doubt be front and center, as the alliance faces Russia’s war in Ukraine. Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, is the longest-serving NATO chief in a generation and has had his tenure extended three times since taking the job in 2014. In February, his spokesperson said he would leave office when his current term ends in October. Stoltenberg is widely credited for managing rocky transatlantic relations between former U.S. President Donald Trump and European allies over defense spending; the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in August 2021; and the alliance’s response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. His preference about his successor carries weight and Biden is expected to consult with him. “A lot of people will look to him to say, ‘Who do you think is the best to follow up your leadership?” Andrew Hyde, senior fellow at the Stimson Center, told VOA. Whoever succeeds Stoltenberg will face the daunting challenge of shepherding the security of 1 billion people in 31 countries and growing. He or she must manage the tough balancing act of supporting Ukraine militarily while preventing the conflict from bleeding into the territory of a NATO member, which would trigger the alliance’s Article 5 principle of collective defense and potentially lead to World War III.   Consensus based  A U.S. general is traditionally the Supreme Allied Commander Europe but the post of NATO chief has always been assumed by a European, even though there’s nothing in the alliance’s charter that requires it. There’s no formal process and candidates don’t announce that they’re running for the post. Selection is done through consensus, achieved mostly through quiet and informal diplomatic channels. As the biggest donor, the U.S. plays a key role — the reason why two contenders have visited the Oval Office recently. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen met with Biden at the White House on Monday. She is seen as a front-runner; however, her candidacy would mean a third successive secretary-general from a Nordic country. Another potential hurdle is that Denmark … Continue reading “Biden, Stoltenberg to Meet Amid Jockeying for NATO Chief’s Successor “

Archbishop of Canterbury ‘Dismayed’ at Ugandan Church Support of New Anti-Gay Law

The archbishop of Canterbury has written to Ugandan Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba to express his “grief and dismay” at the Church of Uganda’s support of the African country’s anti-LGBT law. “Within the Anglican Communion we continue to disagree over matters of sexuality, but in our commitment to God-given human dignity we must be united,” Justin Welby said in a statement Friday. The Ugandan law, approved by President Yoweri Museveni, is severe.  Under the law, gay sex is punishable by life in prison. “Aggravated homosexuality,” which includes transmitting HIV, is punishable by death. Kaziimba has said he welcomes the new law, saying that homosexuality was being pushed on Ugandans by “foreign actors.” “This is not about imposing Western values on our Ugandan Anglican sisters and brothers,” Welby said in his statement.  “It is about reminding them of the commitments we have made as Anglicans to treat every person with the care and respect they deserve as children of God.” …

US Ambassador to UN ‘Gravely Concerned’ About Russia-Iran Military Cooperation

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Friday she is “gravely concerned by the growing military cooperation” between Russia and Iran because it enables “Russia’s prosecution of its brutal war against Ukraine.” Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement, the recent release of information by the United States documenting how Iran has provided Russia with hundreds of one-way, attack unmanned aerial vehicles and UAV production equipment, has enabled Russia to use the UAVs “in recent weeks to strike Kyiv, destroy Ukranian infrastructure, and kill and terrorize Ukrainians civilians.” She said Russia and Iran’s actions violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, “which prohibits all countries – including permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – from transferring these types of weapons from Iran.” Many countries, including Ukraine and the United States, have reported these violations to the Security Council and have also provided supporting material and analysis, according to Thomas-Greenfield. “There is an urgent need for the secretary-general to respond to calls from the international community to investigate these violations,” she said. “Doing so could save lives.” …

Damage Assessment of Ukraine Dam Disaster Underway

From up close, the catastrophic destruction of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine appears worse than how it’s depicted in news reports and far off satellite imagery, according to U.N. officials who assessed conditions in the area on Friday. “We have been visiting this morning with the authorities the communities, the small villages along the river that have been completely submerged by the flooding,” said Denise Brown, one of several U.N. officials who addressed journalists via satellite from the town of Bilozerka, on the west bank of Dnipro River. “The status situation is dramatic,” said Brown, humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine for the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, OCHA. “This is a town that is five kilometers from the front line,” Brown said. “Daily shelling, including yesterday, and now because of the destruction of the bridge, which is a result of the war, and now this flooding, which came in the middle of the night. It came very fast, very quickly and people were totally taken by surprise. “We visited a few homes this morning with people who are, as you can imagine, totally distraught by this latest catastrophe to hit them,” she said. “But I must say, as always, they are incredibly resilient and vowing to stay in their homes.” Ukrainian authorities report at least 80 towns and villages in the Kherson region are fully or partially flooded, as well as thousands of hectares of agricultural land, with some 17,000 people in government-controlled areas affected by the flooding. Shabia Mantoo, spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, said, “Many thousands more in the areas under the temporary military control of the Russian Federation, to [which] humanitarian organizations currently have no access, have also been affected.” The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that it has repeatedly asked the Russian Federation for access to the territories it occupies. “The Russian Federation has denied us this access,” said Jeremy Laurence, spokesman for the OHCHR. “Not only OHCHR monitors, but humanitarian actors cannot get into the occupied territories.” He added, “We reiterate the broader U.N. call to the Russian Federation to grant access to the occupied territories, to assist clinicians who have suffered from the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the destruction of the Khakhova dam.” Humanitarian agencies report that Ukrainian authorities, the International Red Cross, as well as U.N., and non-governmental organizations reacted quickly after the dam broke on … Continue reading “Damage Assessment of Ukraine Dam Disaster Underway”

Macron Visits Victims of Stabbing that Shocked France

French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by his wife, Brigitte, traveled to the French Alps Friday to be with families of the victims stabbed Thursday in a lakeside park in the city of Annecy.  The couple’s first stop was a hospital in the French city of Grenoble, where three of the four young children are receiving treatment.   Government officials said all four children have undergone surgery and are “under constant medical surveillance,” with one child in critical condition.  The fourth child is being treated in Geneva, in Switzerland.   It is not immediately clear whether the president and his wife will go to Geneva.  A man stabbed the children and two adults at the park Thursday morning in an attack Macron said shocked the country.  All four children suffered life-threatening knife wounds, lead prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis said. The youngest is 22 months old, two are 2 years old and the oldest is 3, the prosecutor said. Police quickly detained the suspect — a 31-year-old Syrian national. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the suspect has refugee status in Sweden. “The nation is in shock,” Macron tweeted. He described the assault as an “attack of absolute cowardice.”   Video appearing to show the attack circulated on social media. In the video, a man in dark glasses with a blue scarf covering his head wielded a knife as people screamed for help.   One woman tried to fend off the attacker in the enclosed play park, but she could not stop him from leaning over her stroller and stabbing downward multiple times.   Two of the young victims were French.  The other two were tourists, one British, the other Dutch.  Two adults also suffered knife wounds. One of the adults was also injured by a shot fired by police as they were arresting the suspect, Bonnet-Mathis said.   In Paris, lawmakers paused a debate to hold a moment of silence for the victims.   The National Assembly president, Yaël Braun-Pivet, said, “There are some very young children who are in critical condition, and I invite you to respect a minute of silence for them, for their families, and so that, we hope, the consequences of this very grave attack do not lead to the nation grieving.” “Nothing more abominable than to attack children,” Braun-Pivet said on Twitter.  Some information in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press. …

Reporting on Serbian Leader’s Links to Criminal Groups Raises Questions for US

In early May, The New York Times Magazine published an in-depth story about Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic with details about his alleged connections with a criminal group that is being prosecuted for a range of crimes including drug trafficking and murder. The story drew broad attention internationally, not just in the Balkans where local investigative outlets have reported many of the same allegations, which Vucic denies. The State Department declined to comment on the merit of the allegations in the story, however at least one high-ranking State Department official shared the story on social media. And the allegations were raised last month during a congressional hearing about the Western Balkans. Outside analysts though have been vocal. “It’s a shocking and horrific story that the highest levels of government are so intertwined with criminal enterprises. I think we have seen this in enough other nations that it is a growing concern, the conflation between authoritarian governments and criminal networks,” Gary Kalman, executive director of Transparency International USA, told VOA’s Serbian Service. “It’s terrible. It’s too bad,” said Susan Rose-Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale University, who co-authored the book “Corruption and Government.” She told VOA that connections between people in political power and organized crime create an extreme version of political corruption. The Times story reported that the connections between police and the criminal group, led by a soccer hooligan Veljko Belivuk, nicknamed Trouble, were well documented. The story also claimed “there is little doubt that Belivuk and his gang are in prison because Europol cracked the code” of the phone-messaging app through which they communicated. Author Robert Worth reported that Belivuk testified in court that “his gang had been organized ‘for the need and by the order of Aleksandar Vucic.’” He added that the group, among others, used to intimidate political rivals and prevent fans at soccer games from chanting against Vucic. Worth also wrote that he is skeptical that Vucic was unaware of all the groups did since Vucic “now exercises near-total control over almost every aspect of public life” in Serbia. International context Vucic has been in politics since the 1990s. He served as information minister to Slobodan Milosevic, where he led a crackdown on the press, and he publicly voiced support for Serbian war criminals. His Serbian Progressive Party has now been in power for more than 10 years, during which he was also … Continue reading “Reporting on Serbian Leader’s Links to Criminal Groups Raises Questions for US”

Biden, Sunak Sign US-UK Agreement on Clean Energy, AI

U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday agreed to deepen close economic ties between their countries, pledging to accelerate the clean energy transition and strengthen critical mineral supply chains. The two leaders also discussed their “unwavering support for the people in Ukraine,” Biden told reporters at a joint news conference with Sunak, an opportunity not afforded to every world leader who visits the White House. Biden and the British prime minister released the Atlantic Declaration, which Sunak described as a first-of-its-kind economic partnership on issues like artificial intelligence, climate change and protecting technologies that would help shape the future. “I know some people have wondered what kind of partner Britain would be after it left the EU,” Sunak said. “I’d say, judge us by our actions. We’re as committed to our values as ever, as reliable of an ally as ever, as attractive an investment destination as ever.” Biden hailed the intensity of the economic relationship as an “enormous source of strength” that underpinned broader ties between the NATO allies. “We discussed how we can continue to adapt and upgrade our partnership to ensure our countries remain at the cutting edge of a rapidly changing world,” he said. The two leaders shared laughs and more sober sentiments when they met in the Oval Office about the close relations between prior leaders from the two countries as they previewed topics for the meeting, including artificial intelligence and Northern Ireland, as well as joint economic and security interests, including in Asia. The meeting, their fourth in as many months, came as Western officials sought to ascertain whether Russia was responsible for the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, which has displaced thousands of people and caused major economic and environmental damage. Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for the dam’s destruction. Biden and Sunak both underscored continued support for Ukraine to ensure its long-term security and deter aggression after the war ends. Sunak said Ukraine’s supporters needed to send a strong signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that their backing for Kyiv will not weaken as the war goes on. “We’re not going anywhere. We will be here for as long as it takes,” he said. “And hopefully that will speed up the calculation in his mind that he should withdraw his forces.” Thursday’s discussion focused heavily on ensuring the safety of AI and other emerging technologies, … Continue reading “Biden, Sunak Sign US-UK Agreement on Clean Energy, AI”

Kremlin Says Ammonia Pipeline Blast Is Negative for Black Sea Grain Deal 

The Kremlin on Thursday said a blast that damaged a pipeline once used to export Russian ammonia via Ukraine could have a “negative impact” on the fate of a Black Sea grain deal. The Togliatti-Odesa pipeline, which once pumped up to 2.5 million tons of ammonia annually for global export to Ukraine’s Pivdennyi port on the Black Sea from Togliatti in western Russia, has been idle since the start of the war in February last year.  Russia has accused Ukrainian forces of blowing up a part of the pipeline, the world’s longest to carry ammonia, in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Monday. The regional Ukrainian governor said Russia had shelled the pipeline on Tuesday. Neither side provided evidence to back its allegations.  Asked by reporters about how the damage to the pipeline could affect the fate of the Black Sea grain deal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “It can only have a negative impact.”   He described it as “yet another complication in terms of extending the deal,” adding that Russia did not know “what kind of destruction” there had been to the ammonia pipeline.   Russia has threatened to walk away from the Black Sea grain deal on July 17 if demands to improve its own food and fertilizer exports are not met. The deal, struck in July last year, facilitates the “safe navigation” of grain, foodstuffs and fertilizers — including ammonia — for export to global markets.  U.N. officials are continuing discussions with all the parties to the deal, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.   “We’re continuing our efforts through as many avenues as we can, given the importance of all of this to the fight against global hunger and ensuring that the prices of food do not spike on the global market,” Dujarric told reporters.   The United Nations and Turkey brokered the Ukraine grain Black Sea export deal to help alleviate a global food crisis worsened by conflict disrupting exports from two of the world’s leading grain suppliers.  To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports last year, a separate three-year agreement was also struck in July in which the United Nations agreed to help Russia with its food and fertilizer exports.  Dujarric said top U.N. trade official Rebeca Grynspan was due to meet with Russian officials in Geneva on Friday “as part of our routine contacts on our … Continue reading “Kremlin Says Ammonia Pipeline Blast Is Negative for Black Sea Grain Deal “

Azerbaijan Asks for Postponement of US-Hosted Talks with Armenia

The timing of new U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which had been expected to start Monday, is now uncertain despite the U.S. administration’s conviction that direct dialogue between the two nations is key to any stable peace agreement. “At the request of the Azerbaijani side, the next round of discussions planned to take place next week in Washington D.C. is postponed,” Armenia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Ani Badalyan said in a statement Thursday on social media. “The public will be duly informed on the new timeframes of the meeting.”  Badalyan had previously stated that foreign ministerial talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan scheduled for June 12 would be aimed at stabilizing relations between the neighboring rivals and reaching a peace treaty. The countries have had a decades-long conflict involving the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is inside Azerbaijan but populated predominantly by ethnic Armenians. When asked Thursday whether the talks have been postponed, a State Department spokesman told VOA, “Regarding the date of the next round of talks, we don’t have any specific dates to announce at this time.” Experts predict difficult talks whenever they begin, saying there are many obstacles to a durable peace deal between the two countries. “Even though the [Nagorno-Karabakh] region is recognized as a part of Azerbaijan, the Armenia government will likely not sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan unless the Azerbaijan government provides assurances about the security and safety of the Karabakh Armenians,” said Heather Ashby, acting director for U.S. Institute of Peace’s Center for Russia and Europe program. “Azerbaijan’s plan for incorporating Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan will play an important role in the peace talks,” Ashby told VOA on Thursday. Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 6 tweeted that Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, Dereck Hogan, had “discussed key issues of normalization process” of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations ahead of the talks. They discussed “border delimitation and security” as well as the “rights and security” of people living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the ministry tweeted.   Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov had acknowledged the coming meetings and the need to prepare an agreement to normalize relations with Armenia, while expressing uncertainty about the duration of the peace process, according to VOA’s Azerbaijani service. At the State Department, deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters during a briefing this week that the United States looks “forward to hosting another round of talks in Washington as the parties continue to pursue a peaceful future in the … Continue reading “Azerbaijan Asks for Postponement of US-Hosted Talks with Armenia”

Russian Trade Rises Despite Sanctions, as NATO Member Turkey Offers ‘Critical Lifeline’

Despite Western attempts to stifle Russia’s economy through sanctions following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, Russian trade volumes with dozens of countries have actually increased since the war began, according to an analysis by the Washington-based Atlantic Council. Henry Ridgwell reports. …

In Photos: Ukrainians Flee Flood Following Destruction of Kakhovka Dam

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits the Kherson region where thousands of people are dealing with the effects from flooding following the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam. The hydroelectric dam in Russian-held territory was destroyed on June 6, flooding dozens of villages and parts of a nearby city, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other for the destruction. …

Four Children Wounded in Knife Attack in French Town, Two in Critical Condition

A Syrian national wounded four children and an adult in a knife attack in a park in the southeastern French town of Annecy on Thursday, police said, leaving some of the victims critically ill in hospital. The attacker was a Syrian national with legal refugee status in France, a police official told Reuters. He was not known to security agencies and his motives were unclear, an investigative source said. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter that the attacker had been arrested. Two children and one adult were in life-threatening condition, while two children were slightly hurt, police said. “Children and one adult are between life and death. The nation is in shock,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement on Twitter, calling the attack “an act of absolute cowardice.” Witnesses said at least one of the children wounded in the attack was in a stroller. The incident took place at around 0745 GMT in the playground of a lakeside park in Annecy, a town in the French Alps. “He jumped (in the playground), started shouting and then went towards the strollers, repeatedly hitting the little ones with a knife,” a witness who gave his name as Ferdinand told BFM TV. “Mothers were crying, everybody was running,” said George, another witness and owner of a nearby restaurant. The TV channel showed footage of several policemen overpowering an individual in a park.  “Nothing more abominable than to attack children,” National Assembly speaker Yael Braun-Pivet said on Twitter. Parliament observed a minute of silence to mark the incident. …

Latest in Ukraine: Zelenskyy Visits Flood-Hit Kherson

Latest developments: U.S. President Joe Biden to host NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg for talks Monday with support for Ukraine at the top of the agenda ahead of next month’s NATO summit. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said Thursday he spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the upcoming visits to Russia and Ukraine by a delegation of African leaders who are seeking to help resolve the conflict. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday he visited the Kherson region where thousands of people are dealing with the effects from flooding following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam. Zelenskyy shared a video on Telegram of him meeting with officials and said they discussed evacuations, restoring the region’s ecosystem and the military situation in the area. That followed his nightly address Wednesday in which he called for a “clear and quick response from the world.” He said “large-scale efforts are needed” including the help of groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC said earlier Wednesday it was closely coordinating with the Ukrainian Red Cross to support the humanitarian response to the dam’s destruction. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg “promised NATO mechanisms will be used to provide humanitarian assistance.”  Kuleba and Stoltenberg announced they would lead a meeting Thursday with NATO allies to discuss the situation. The governor of the Kherson region said Thursday about 600 square kilometers were under water. Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said about two-thirds of the flooded land was on the side of the Dnipro River occupied by Russia, while one-third was on the side still under Ukrainian control. Prokudin said efforts to evacuate people from flooded areas were ongoing. The hydroelectric dam collapsed Tuesday, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other for the destruction. Some information came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.   …

Biden To Host British Prime Minister Sunak for White House Talks

U.S. President Joe Biden will host British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for talks at the White House Thursday that are expected to cover economic ties and supporting Ukraine in its defense against a Russian invasion. The visit by Sunak is his first to the United States since becoming prime minister in October, but he and Biden have already met three times this year. “The two leaders will review a range of global issues, including our economic partnership, our shared support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s brutal war of aggression, as well as further action to accelerate the clean energy transition,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday. “The president and the prime minister will also discuss the joint U.S.-U.K. leadership on critical and emerging technologies as well as our work to strengthen our economic security. They will also review developments in Northern Ireland as part of their shared commitment to preserving the gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.” Ahead of Thursday’s talks, Sunak said he would push for closer economic relations in the same spirit as the countries’ defense and security cooperation. “Just as interoperability between our militaries has given us a battlefield advantage over our adversaries, greater economic interoperability will give us a crucial edge in the decades ahead,” Sunak said. British officials said Sunak also wanted to discuss ways to protect global supply chains, particularly against individual countries that may corner and manipulate markets for certain sectors. Another topic on the agenda for Sunak is the regulation of the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence. Before meeting with Biden, Sunak held talks with congressional leaders and took part in a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery. He also appeared at the Washington Nationals baseball game where the team was honoring U.S.-U.K. Friendship Day. White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters …